“I don’t get a break from my kids.”
If I had a dollar for every time a married person made the above statement to me, I’d have two dollars, because most people realize it isn’t a tactful thing to say, even if they think it, and I’m pretty confident that many married parents think this about single parents every now and then. Interestingly, the people who said this to me were people who actually do get breaks from their kids, though infrequently, in the form of Grandparent overnight vacations—where the kids went and the parents did not.
Also interestingly, the single parents whose former spouses left town or are otherwise not in the picture, and do not have family that take their kids overnight and are completely on their own all of the time never say this, but I suspect it is because they don’t spend that much time thinking about other people because they have enough going on in their own lives.
The truth is that I don’t really enjoy my kids being gone, particularly on ten-day vacations, like they are this week. I look forward to it like nobody’s business. I make grand plans for everything I am going to accomplish, mentally pair dresses with cute shoes for grown-up evenings, and count days the days until the children leave the house, singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” in my head. Then they actually leave and I deflate like a balloon the day after the circus leaves town. I never get the stuff done I plan on doing—not the work stuff nor the fun stuff. It just seems like too much effort.
Oh, I do have some productive moments and some fun moments, I can’t lie. But in-between I sit there and surf the web and wait for the kids to come home. I follow my son’s little league game on my phone even though he’s not playing in it. I call every night and pretend I don’t mind when I hear about the fun stuff they did that day without me. I don’t let on that I can tell that they want to get off the phone as quickly as possible. It’s my job to protect them from my sadness.
Don’t get me wrong—I look at the calendar with a bit of dread for the ensuing chaos that will unfold the minute they get home—the sports, speech therapy appointments, play dates. I know that the first day back isn’t officially over until someone cries. I think they save up their tears until they get back to my house. Once they are home, I start looking forward to the next time they are gone.
I look back at the previous vacations when the kids were away and remember mainly all the fun stuff I got to do while they were gone. I know that I definitely have some good grown up fun that I couldn’t have if they were in town. I’ve gone on trips and out to plays and even on occasion drank more wine than I would’ve if the kids were home. But in the actual moment, I’m a shell. Low-level but constant sadness. Malaise. I can’t even summon the enthusiasm needed to work on my tan, and working on a tan just means I have to move my chair all of ten feet from the covered porch to the yard.
I also realize that I can’t run from my sadness the rest of my life. I have to learn to deal with the kids being gone—this isn’t a new condition and it’s not going to change. It’s been going on for over eight years, and in five more years my eldest will be off to college. I need a better skill set, and quickly.
Today I got a text from my youngest: Did you get my email, Mama?
He misses me! He sent me an email! He wants ongoing communication above and beyond our nightly 90-second phone calls!
No, I didn’t get it. I replied.
Still no email. I typed again.
I started to worry that something was terribly wrong and he couldn’t talk about it in front of his father. I Pictured many terrible, terrible things—things in fact so terrible only the word terrible can be used to describe them, and must be used multiple times in a row.
Finally, the boys called.
“Your email didn’t go through. What’s wrong?” I asked.
“There’s this violin I want to buy with my savings account money. It’s $34.95.”
Sigh. Two more days. Better have some grown up fun while I still can.
Copyright © 2023 Lara Lillibridge
Public domain imagery courtesy of Snappygoat.com